Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Nine C's of Crisis Communications - Part Three

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP International Business Speaker

Nine weeks is a long time in the oil industry. Especially if you have a leak that has so far cost more than five million dollars just in clean-up costs.

Oil has been leaking from the West Atlas drill site in the Timor Sea since August 21 2009.

Despite three attempts, the leak is technically difficult to stop. A fourth effort will be made on Friday.

The longer it goes on the more it is a PR disaster for the oil and gas industry.

Chairman of one of Australia's largest operators, Woodside Limited, Michael Chaney confirmed at a University of Western Australia Graduate Management Association function last night that Woodside had offered to help but this was rejected.

Green activists continue to try and keep the issue in the public eye despite the oil rig being in such a remote location.

West Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert was quoted in various media as saying:

"Today's figures do not cover potential costs and damages to industries such as the $8 million-a-year fishery and tourism that operates in the vicinity of the spill," she said.

"Nor the long-term costs in terms of damage to the marine environment.

"This backs the growing calls for oil and gas operators to be required to contribute to a trust fund and improved insurance arrangements."

This is in the context of the A$43billion dollar Gorgon development and the even bigger proposed Browse Basin development in the West Kimberley.

The company that owns the rig, PTTEP Australasia, part of Thailand's only publicly listed oil exploration company, is sticking to the facts only and has made limited public comment.

A good strategy for an incident like this, but rejecting Woodside's offer of help could come back to haunt them - even from a PR perspective as the issue drags on.

This is all happening while the stigma of one of the world's worst oil spills continues for Exxon 20 years on.

After the crisis, more than 18,000 customers sent their Exxon credit cards back to the company.

Media and political comments were extremely hostile.

Exxon fell from 8th to 110th on Fortune's list of most admired US companies.

The direct cost to the company in punitive damages, compensation and clean-up operations was well over $10 billion and the incident is still being talked about.

So what should you do in a crisis like an oil spill?

Here are the Nine C's of crisis communications, and the third and final three.

7. Convene

Get together a crisis team and hold a media conference to regularly update stakeholders in an efficient, controlled and timely way.

My research has failed to show any evidence that PTTEP Australasia has held a media conference on the oil spill.

8. Connect

Have up to date databases and distribution systems to get information out.

Social media channels are becoming increasingly important in a crisis.

9. Clarify and review

Learn from past experiences.

Run hypothetical crisis training to road test your systems, messages and people.

Contact me if you want crisis training for your organisation.

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